Friday, September 23, 2011

The Job Application Process and Marketing - The Hidden Message Behind the Differences Between the Front Door and the Back Door

Just the other day, I happened to come across a job listing with this listed as the application process that you must follow or, "Applications that do not adhere to the format will be ignored." According to the job post, you need to send an email to a specified address with a specific subject line (I've stripped that information out in order to provide a layer of anonymity). Here is how they specify that the rest of the email should be formatted:
- In the first line of the e-mail include your education details
- In the next 3 lines include your last 3 job titles, employers and duration
- In the following line include your desired salary
- Include 3-5 bulleted points listing your top strengths and your top measurable achievements, please be concise
- Attach a writing sample
- Attach a summarized one page resume -- preferably in .PDF format
Now it's not unusual for businesses to look for ways to screen candidates, but this one struck me as really pushing that envelope. I began to reflect on the entire approach, what it said about the position, about the company and about the process.

Why Would You Ask A Potential Employee to Structure an Application This Way?
The most obvious answer might be to establish a screening process that reduced the volume of submissions. Of course, the question that this points to is, what volume of submissions do you need to hit for it to be too much? At one end of the spectrum, you probably have numbers like Google, while at the other, the number may be zero or one. Even with the volume of resumes that they receive, Google doesn't force candidates to jump through hoops like this.

When it comes to demand generation marketing and the front door of the company, most businesses have strategies for addressing inquiries and screening leads. While web-to-lead forms may provide a low-pass filter that helps increase the likelihood of a lead qualification, we also use techniques like lead scoring to further automate the filtering process. What's more -- if you scan enough leads (assuming a certain amount of data beyond basic contact info), you can develop your own internal sense of scoring pretty quickly. Long story short, if the goal of this "structured" method of pre-screening is to streamline the process, the underlying message seems to speak more to laziness or lack of capability on the part of the reviewer than an actual process improvement. That's probably not a message that a business would want to communicate.

Another objective of this process structure might be an effort to escape the automated loop of volume job submissions. By asking candidates to do something different, this might filter out candidates that only had a casual interest in the position or make bulk applications -- application spam. But the corresponding question that you have to ask is, if you need the candidate to escape the existing application ritual, is it necessary to create such an extensive list of requirements? Stepping through a web-based form could achieve the same goal. Clearly, there is some deeper motive at play.

Please Be Concise
I think that the most telling aspect of this requirements list is the statement, "please be concise." The statement, along with many of the accompanying requirements, carries the tone of a school teacher setting down homework requirements for students. And it's just as pretentious as that college instructor who said it the last time. Layered underneath the words is the message, "our arbitrarily imposed structure is more important than you."

Clearly, this is not a job where you have the opportunity to transform their operations. This is not a position where they expect to be awed by their candidates. This is role that will execute on a specific set of parameters as though they were working the line in a factory. Creative ideas? Alternative approaches? We have no use for them here. Did I mention that this list of requirements is for a marketing role?

Communications and Your Customer
Imagine if this set of communications rules were customer facing. Instead of job requirements, imagine if you were to use this kind of framework or phrasing in your RFP. Of course, that hypothetical doesn't quite match because to make it truly similar, you would need an existing standard for RFPs, but then force customers to restructure their existing materials to match your RFP format. The whole prospect seems ludicrous. So, why would it be okay for prospective employees, for potential contributors to the health and well-being of your business?

When the economy is bad, some businesses treat is as a license to push employees harder, to drive the business on the desperate sweat of workers who can't afford to demand better. In a market where jobs are rare and your flexibility to change is limited, some use it as an opportunity to make people lick boots and jump through flaming hoops, they promote fear and profit from it.

If you're a marketing professional and you see a job listing like this, I would suggest that you close the listing and walk away. The language that they use suggests that they aren't open to new ideas -- your work here noteworthy, just another homework assignment. No creativity. No fun. Just work.

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